Search & Distill: Going Back for Black Raven

What you drink when you drink with Eastside beer nerds.

While at Malt & Vine in Redmond on an emergency beer run, I picked up a bottle of a Belgian-style ale brewed by Black Raven Brewing. Not much can get me to the Eastside, let alone twice in one week, but this bottle had me journeying the next day, during rush hour, to its point of origin.Driving up to Black Raven, just south of the Willows Run golf course on Willows Road in Redmond, you don't expect much. The brewery stands at the edge of an office park, with an entry that looks like it'd lead to a nondescript corporate office, not to a tasting room packed to the gills with more than 30 people at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday. The space opened in mid-April, and has enjoyed good word-of-mouth among townsfolk and the beer community. The crowd is super-friendly, as are the employees, who take time to recommend different beers even when the place is jammed. Drinkers seem to come from the surrounding industrial area, but the wardrobe includes at least 40 percent beer-swag Ts and polos. Clearly, Eastside beer nerds have a new haunt; this brewery has filled a niche.I'm also a big sucker for this brewery's totem and gimmick. All the beers reference in some way historical or literary ravens of note, starting with the Trickster IPA, which just won a silver medal at the North American Beer Awards in the American Strong Pale category. The beer smells softly of fresh tropical fruit, balanced with the Northwest forest-floor aroma of hops; the effect lifts your mood as much as your palate. Even at this level of aggressive hopping, the flavor remains balanced—the hops never manage to rake away all that marvelous fruit.The thing I notice most about the beers at Black Raven is the attention paid to aromatics. Some people eat with their eyes, but I live to smell. The coconut stout on tap at the brewery right now is anything but gimmicky, a cooling blend of dark chocolate and the mild flavor of young coconut. It smells like someone milked a Mounds bar, and the taste is subtle, with a dry finish that allows you to exhale a hint of lingering coconut. Their Kristale Wheat, essentially a filtered hefeweizen, leads with a note of pungent fruit I couldn't quite figure out, mingling with the happy smell of bread dough and fading to a clean, crisp finish that marks a nice change from the average hefeweizen or lager. And the Tamerlane Brown Porter goes in like an English brown and down like a porter, all toffee on the front and unsweetened chocolate at the end. I can think of 10 things I want to do with this beer, including making a caramel, braising just about anything, and bathing in it.Beaux Bowman and Kat Gillespie own Black Raven; Bowman is the head brewer, sharing brewing duties with Andy Lapworth. Bowman gained brewing experience from a two-year stint at Mac & Jack's just across town, and also worked as a brewer for the Ram in University Village for two years. He and Gillespie hope one day to add a kitchen to the space, but for now they're happy keeping up with the production demand and don't want to expand too quickly. They also have plans for more esoteric, barrel-aged beers.For now, Black Raven's tasting room is open six days a week, serving pints and providing growlers and kegs to go. I can't think of a better pit stop to cleanse your palate of the area's thick red wines. The brewery also will pour their beer this weekend at the Washington Brewers Festival at St. Edward Park in Kenmore (visit washingtonbeer.org or blackravenbrewing.com for more information).msavarino@seattleweekly.com

 
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